Written By: Muhammad Luqman
Just a decade ago, people of Punjab had to look for off-season vegetables grown in the neighbouring province of Sindh to satifsfy the tingling of their taste buds. Be it bitter gourd (karela) or okra (bhindi), these would bring right around three times higher than the vegetables picked in Punjab very nearly two months after the fact.
A Farmer belongs to Sukkur had a corner business sector for his off-season vegetables in Lahore and other towns of Punjab and Islamabad. But the farmers of Punjab had to get a return that was basically not more than the per acre expenditures incurred on the cultivation of the vegetables. This glut-like situation always added worst to the miseries of the already marginalized farming community in this land of five rivers.
But with the introduction of modern agricultural techniques like tunnel farming has started fast changing the cultivation practices in Pakistan especially Punjab. Tunnel farming, also adopted by India, has the farmers of Punjab to reap more profits from the vegetable crops mainly grown in summer
Now we witness a mushroom growth of the structures in the fields in Central Punjab districts of Nankana Sahib, Sheikhupura, Lahore and Kasur where farmers now prefer to grow tomatoes, capsicum (shimla mirch), cucumbers, bitter gourd and okra.
Tunnel farming involves constructing tunnels like Greenhouses i.e. hut-like structures swathed in plastic that serve as cocoons for growing cucumber, tomato, pepper, carrot and lettuce etc. In addition to summer vegetables, production of strawberry inside tunnels has also become very popular in areas around Lahore in the recent years.
Passage cultivating includes building passages like Greenhouses i.e. cottage like structures swathed in plastic that serve as casings for developing cucumber, tomato, pepper, carrot and lettuce and so forth. Notwithstanding summer vegetables, creation of strawberry inside passages has likewise turned out to be extremely mainstream in ranges around Lahore in the late years.
The idea of tunnel farming is to shield the crops from the elements and trap the heat of the sun, extending the growing season and increasing production.
Tunnel farming operates on the principle that of creating Summer-like conditions during winter. The vegetables sown in summer are then cultivated in these tunnels during winter. The entire farming area is covered by transparent polythene sheath fixed over D-shaped bamboos or steel pipes. The soil is also covered with black colored polythene sheath with small holes in which the seeds are sown.
Expenditure on the construction of a tunnel in a field ranges from Rs 10,000 to Rs one million. American development agency, USAID and even local NGOs have also started providing financial assistance to the farmers of Punjab and Khyber PakhtunKhawa. In addition to the development of the tunnels, quality seed, fertiizers and pesticides are being provided at subsidized rates along with harvesting bins. Ministry of Food Security and Research’s Agriculture Support Fund and Punjab government also claim of supporting the tunnel farming.
The technology that not only helps produce the crop atleast two months earlier than the traditional cultivation season, also saves the crop from all sorts of severe weather and handling related wastes. Besides, these farmers have also been facilitated in having direct access to the market instead of depending on the middle man.
Tunnel farming is not restricted to the Punjab province only. Tunnel farming structures are seen in the fields in Khyber Pakhtun Khawa like Swat, Mardan and Charsadda. The progressive farmers are turning to tunnel farming technology with the passage of time. This has opened new vistas of prosperity for the farmers as well as the consumers looking for off-season veggies.
Besides vegetables, even the growers of strawberry in Lahore and Sheikhupura districts have adopted the tunnel farming to protect their crops from the severe weather conditions. With the passage of every day, the future of this new technology is becoming more and more bright especially the fertile agricultural lands of Punjab.
The future of tunnel farming seems bright in Pakistan and the adoption rate of the farmers to this technology has been rapid in the recent years and more tunnels are being established. Tunnels can now be seen in almost 70% agricultural lands of Punjab, and fewer in Sindh, too. Most of the agricultural zones which have potential for vegetables and fruits cultivation is attracted to tunnel farming.
It is high time that the federal and provincial governments should provide all the necessary support to the farmers to adopt tunnel farming technology so that more and more vegetables could be exported to the Middle East after meeting the domestic needs.